Prince Norodom Chakrapong
The Post talks to Prince Norodom Chakrapong, founder and president of Royal
Phnom Penh Airways, who recently established the Chakrapong Khmer Spirit Party
to contest the 2003 general election.
Prince Norodom Chakrapong.
Prince Chakrapong, tell us something about your life
before Royal Phnom Penh Airways.
I trained as a pilot in 1963 when I was just 18 years old. Of the 600
candidates, only 55 were selected. I trained for three years and at the end of
that time only 33 graduated. I came top in a very competitive class.
went to France for a further one year's internship, and then returned to
Cambodia. I didn't fly during the fighting in the 1970s [during the Lon Nol
regime] because I was the King's son. In 1973, my younger brother-in-law, who
like me was a pilot, bombed Chamkar Morn. I was arrested along with him and put
Later that year I accompanied Queen Monineath to China, where I
was in charge of protocol for King Norodom Sihanouk until 1975. The next year I
went to Yugoslavia for further pilot training, then sought asylum in France and
became a businessman.
Along with my father [King Sihanouk] I helped found
Funcinpec in 1980. I was put in charge of the resistance forces [at that time
fighting alongside the ousted Khmer Rouge forces against the new government in
I was also in charge of the Ministry of Health and Social
Affairs, and in 1985 was appointed Minister of Defense for the Funcinpec
resistance to liberate the nation. During that time there was foreign occupation
of Cambodia. If [the Vietnamese] had simply wanted to liberate Cambodia they
would not have stayed longer. They should have withdrawn, much as the US forces
withdrew from Europe after the Second World War.
However in Cambodia the
issue was this: the Vietnamese sent more and more troops and civilians here once
they gained victory over the Khmer Rouge regime. Therefore we had to set up the
resistance movement against the Vietnamese occupied Cambodia, on behalf of all
It was my duty to fight the foreigners in our country. There
were three resistance movements along the Thai border: Son San, the Khmer Rouge,
and Funcinpec. I believe that if there had been no resistance to the Vietnamese,
their armed forces would never have withdrawn. They would merely have pretended
to leave. The resistance movement forced Vietnam and Cambodia to negotiate for
From 1989 Khmers had the chance to talk to Khmers [in other
factions] to pursue national unity. I led negotiations at Paris under the
authority of [my half-brother] Prince Norodom Ranariddh. My duties finished in
1991 when the country achieved unity.
I then left Funcinpec for personal
reasons, which were down to different points of view between myself and [Prince
Ranariddh]. I decided I did not want to create a rift in the party, so I left.
Also my father was no longer president of Funcinpec, and I had worked for
Funcinpec because of my father. When my father attained the throne, I left the
After that I was invited back to Cambodia by Hun Sen and his
colleagues in the Cambodian People's Party (CPP). I had left my homeland in 1973
and I wanted to return. Chea Sim, Hun Sen, Say Chhum and Sin Song asked me to
help the CPP. [When it came down to national unity] I wasn't concerned about
which political party I was in, as they were all working for the same
When did you start at the CPP?
I worked for the CPP from 1991 until 1994. During that time I was deputy
prime minister and a member of CPP's Standing Committee. I was at the top of the
party. Hun Sen asked me to take charge of seven posts: the ministries of
industry, tourism, culture, education, and social affairs, and the civil
aviation authority, as well as the national airline, Royal Air Cambodge.
What did you feel about the [attempted] coup [in 1994]?
I don't want to say much about that. As for the [the 1993 secessionist
movement] I will say this: the provinces of Svay Rieng, Prey Veng and Kampong
Cham were an autonomous zone after the 1993 UNTAC-sponsored election. The CPP
claimed the election was not run properly, and felt there would be political
revenge in many districts and communes in Cambodia. We thought there would be a
civil war. Funcinpec [which won most seats] promised the people that 48 hours
after it won it would hand over power to King Norodom Sihanouk. Cambodia was not
yet a democracy and the Khmers were used to employing their armed forces to sort
out their differences.
I admit that I led the drive for an autonomous
zone with Sin Song, but there was no bloodletting. I also recall that Funcinpec
had no intention of forming a coalition government with the CPP. I organized the
autonomous zone because I wanted the King to have the duty to settle [the issue
on behalf of] the nation. The King came up with a formula [the CPP and Funcinpec
set up a coalition government].
I was just an actor along with Sin Song.
Please consider that if the top leaders [in the CPP] had not given us the order
to do that, how could Sin Song and I have gone ahead? None of the provincial
governors or the armed forces in these three provinces would have listened to my
instructions. I was the actor and I was a victim of politics.
of the 1993 election was that the CPP lost power, but the King's concerns about
another civil war led him to the political settlement. Since that time the CPP
has regained power.
The victims were Sin Song and I. The leadership of
the CPP regained power, but there was no justice for us. However, I am proud
that if we had not set up the autonomous zone, there would have been civil war.
My disappointment is over the fact that only Sin Song and I were blamed for it.
I have no objection to taking responsibility for what I did, and I would
like to clarify the events through your newspaper. History shows that to lead a
coup you need maybe 100,000 soldiers, but Sin Song and I had none.
coup only saw three people jailed. I had spent more than ten years of my life at
war, and if I had done something risky I would probably have died sometime in
the last 20 years. I am not so stupid as to organize a coup with only three
If you look at the [Cambodian Freedom Fighters] movement, around
100 people were jailed. There was no proof to put me in jail. It was amusing to
me, and to this day I want to know why I was accused of leading a coup. I know
many top people inside the CPP who know I am innocent of that accusation. The
autonomous zone ended up giving the advantage to the CPP and its
Who ordered you to carry out the coup?
Chakrapong was asked not to identify those who gave him the orders, but bear
in mind that only a few people had more power, and there are not many people on
the Standing Committee.
How did you feel during your time of exile in
I was full of sadness that I was exiled for five years, because I had served
my nation since 1963 when I was 18. I became a soldier because I wanted to
protect the sovereignty of my nation. And yet I had no rights to live in my own
country, when the mafia and illegal immigrants could freely enter.
pain that I was a true Khmer yet could not live in my land. It was not fair to
do this to me when the top Khmer Rouge leaders believed responsible for the
crimes against humanity between 1975-79 had the right to live freely in society
without fear of a trial when they were integrated into the government in 1996.
It is a strange government that gives freedom to those whose hands are so
Will your new party share power if it does well in the 2003
The CPP will not share power again with any political party that loses the
next election. Cambodia's Constitution should be amended to prevent the Prime
Minister serving more than two terms in order to give other Khmers the
opportunity to lead.
Those people who have been in power for a long time
have cause to stay even longer. Ten years as Prime Minister is definitely long
enough. The current leaders have been in power for more than 20 years. Even
communist countries such as Vietnam and China have started to change their
leaders as their nations develop, so why hasn't Cambodia?
Cambodians want new leadership?
In the near future Vietnam will change its leader, and I think our people
want to change theirs. If we look deeper into the daily realities Cambodia still
lacks political stability, because we don't yet have a state of law. We have a
Constitution, we have had many laws approved by the National Assembly, but do
the leaders in this country respect the law?
During my father's rule all
the people right up to the leaders and the King respected the law. At least 80
percent of the people respected the law, but now less than 20 percent do,
particularly the high-ranking leaders.
These days even some newspapers
criticize the King [which is against the Constitution]. If there is no political
stability, there will be no economic stability, and that affects social
development which makes people even poorer.
Another big issue at the
moment is the sovereignty of the country in regard to illegal immigrants who are
coming to live here and don't respect the law. European countries have become
much stricter about immigration.
In Cambodia the Montagnard issue caused
a big protest at the United Nations. Vietnam wanted [the 1,000 Montagnards
back], so why don't they want back the one million illegal Vietnamese immigrants
I don't understand the lack of law enforcement against
illegal Vietnamese immigration. Why doesn't Cambodia enforce its own laws?
Khmers never dare to confront foreigners even when they abuse the country's
laws. I think these issues are very dangerous for my nation. If Cambodia carries
on being led the way it is, then in 30 years there will only be room for Khmers
around Phnom Penh.
What is your opinion of Hun Sen's speech warning
political parties not to use military or police to solve their problems?
I support Samdech's speech appealing to all armed forces not to get involved
in politics. I would like to see the heads of all the military and police resign
from political parties to ensure political stability. When the military and
police belong to political parties, they cannot maintain their
It is nonsense to ask military and police officials to stay
out of politics when they are still members of political parties. Their weapons,
salaries and uniforms all come from the national budget, not from one or other
The military, the police and monks all have the right to vote, but
none should belong to parties. We saw clearly in 1997 when Funcinpec and the CPP
confronted each other that the armed forces belonged to one of the
Finally, how do you see the political situation in
The commune election result [from February 2002] showed the people support
the CPP, so why is it still afraid to reform the National Election
In countries where the people have good living conditions they
tend not to think much about politics. I can't estimate how many seats my party
will get in the 2003 general election, but I have the confidence that if someone
works hard, he will be successful.
As for government policy: I employ
more than 200 Cambodians in my company and only six foreigners. The open skies
policy of this government has not helped Cambodians get jobs. Since it came into
operation, many Cambodians working within the Khmer air industry [at Royal Air
Cambodge] have lost their jobs. The policy of the government to eliminate
poverty is good, but I don't see that there is any real commitment to do so.